Florida Keys News
Monday, January 27, 2014
Poinciana Elementary: 'A family that C.A.R.E.S.'

During a recent trip to Poinciana Elementary School, a visitor might have thought they had just stepped into the Magic Kingdom of Disney World.

This particular day found many of the school's 665 students, and their teachers, were dressed in the colorful clothing of Disney characters, as they went about their daily routines at the neighborhood school in New Town.

"It's something we're doing for Literacy Week," said Poinciana Principal Christina McPherson, who also still serves as the school district's Director of Accountability and Assessment. "It's to help increase student participation in the reading programs going on this week. We've also incorporated a Camping Gear Day. It helps to keep it fun."

Fun is an operative word for the mild-mannered McPherson, and her leadership team, which includes Daliana Goins, a school counselor and positive behavior support program coach, and Lesley Finigan, an instructional and reading coach.

But there are plenty of changes afoot at the school, whose current building was completed in 2006, just a year after Hurricane Wilma's floodwaters ravaged this part of the island.

Many of these changes are outlined in the School Improvement Plan McPherson and her team put together for the current school year, which is McPherson's first as principal there. According to that plan, the school's mission "is to educate the entire school community to be the best they can be and fulfill their potential in academic, personal, and social growth."

Then there's the School Statement: "Poinciana is a family that CARES," that last word an acronym for Commitment, Achievement, Respect, Expectations and Spirit.

There are also a number of initiatives contained in the plan. "The Three L's" entreats students to "Listen, Learn and Love."

There's also an etiquette initiative aimed at transforming the cafeteria into something more than just a place for hungry students to shovel food into their mouths between classes.

"We've renamed it The Poinciana Pelican Palace Restaurant," McPherson said. "As part of the initiative we've been teaching the students proper table etiquette. Sometimes we put out tablecloths, to add to the experience. It was something we felt we should do."

As with most schools in the Keys, Poinciana is working with an ever-changing demographic situation, welcoming an increasing number of students who were born outside the United States.

"Ninety-five of our students have been in the country for less than two years," McPherson said. "So there are a fair number of students for whom English is a second language. Helping them to learn English while they're learning math and science is another important aspect of what we do."

A key program for McPherson and her leadership team is the Positive Behavior Initiative (PBS) that seeks to change the whole disciplinary paradigm by concentrating on rewarding good behavior, as opposed to punishing bad. Poinciana is currently one of just a handful of schools in the district taking part in PBS, which is sponsored by the University of South Florida.

Positive reinforcements relating to the program line the walls of the school, which was recently awarded bronze level status for the staff's efforts at changing bad habits and behavior, and the sense of order is palpable in the halls and classrooms.

"Last year, between August and December we had 80 referrals for bad behavior," Counselor Goins said. "This year that number dropped to 24, which is pretty drastic. Our staff really loves this program."

In Robin Black's first-grade classroom, students are busy plugging away in various "centers," with some of them reading, others working on laptop computers, and still others working on a top-secret project involving shaving cream on a plate.

Black's class is one of the lucky three to be working with Smart Board technology. McPherson hopes to be able to install them in every classroom in the school when budgets allow.

Still, technology is nothing without trained staff to explain it, and the principal is rightly proud of her staff.

"Of our 42 teachers, 43 percent of them have been teaching for 15 or more years," McPherson said. "Another 45 percent have been teaching for six to 14 years. We have a highly qualified instructional staff, and it shows in everything we do."

During the 2012-13 school year Poinciana was awarded an overall "B" rating from the state Department of Education. The year before, it had been an "A" and McPherson is determined to reverse the trajectory of those scores.

"Our priority is bringing up our reading, writing and math scores," McPherson said.

"And we're spending a lot of time getting ready for the Common Core Curriculum that's coming soon. We hold weekly faculty meetings where we discuss our strategies, which include incorporating best practices from our community of experts."

As with all schools these days, the staff at Poinciana is emphasizing the importance of STEM education, which stresses Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The winners of Poinciana's science fair, held in December, represented the school at the District Science Fair held Saturday at Sugarloaf School, and did Poinciana proud.

"Out of our fifth graders, Nathan Barroso finished first in his grade level," McPherson said. "And another fifth-grader Ainsley Cunningham received an honorable mention, so we were pleased with taking home so many honors. We're extremely proud of them. They really worked hard, through an intensive judging process."

For the left-brain thinkers at the school, Poinciana also has an impressive art program.

In December, the art department partnered with the Tropic Cinema, which hosted for the third year a well-attended show of art work by the K-5 students of art teacher Jennifer Franke.

"It went really well," said Franke. "I think we're the only school that's been able to put on a show there. The Tropic people were really great."

As for the physical health of her students, Principal McPherson has been dealt a decent hand. The school has plenty of space for outdoor exercise and sports, and is allowed to use the Key West High School ball fields next door.

The school also has instituted an optional 7:45 a.m. "Morning Mile" running program, which has taken off with the students, as they start the school day with a run around the neighborhood. Parent volunteer Hillary Lee helps make the run possible each day.

"So far this year, we have a cumulative 1,800 miles run or walked by the students," said Finigan. "That would take us to Bangor, Maine. A lot of parents come out to run with their kids. It's been very successful."

Walking down the hallways of her school, students of all ages rush to greet the principal, who knows all their names and happily returns their salutations.

"It's just a great school in a great neighborhood," McPherson said. "And we're going to make it even better."

tschmida@keysnews.com

'Building a Community of Leaders and Learners'

Poinciana Elementary School

On a recent trip to Poinciana Elementary School, a visitor might have thought they had just stepped into the Magic Kingdom of Disney World.

During this particular day many of the school's 665 students, and their teachers, were dressed in the colorful clothing of Disney characters, as they went about their daily routines at the neighborhood school in New Town.

"It's something we're doing for Literacy Week," said Poinciana Principal Christina McPherson, who also still serves as the School District's Director of Accountability and Assessment. "It's to help increase student participation in the reading programs going on this week. We've also done a Camping Gear Day. It helps to keep it fun."

Fun is an operative word for the mild-mannered McPherson, and her leadership team, which includes Daliana Goins, a School Counselor and Positive Behavior Support program coach, and Lesley Finigan, an Instructional and Reading Coach.

But there are plenty of changes afoot at the school, whose current building was completed in 2006, just a year after Hurricane Wilma's floodwaters ravaged this part of the island.

Many of these changes are outlined in the School Improvement Plan McPherson and her team put together for the current school year, which is McPherson's first there as principal. According to that plan, the school's mission "is to educate the entire school community to be the best they can be and fulfill their potential in academic, personal, and social growth."

Then there's the School Statement: "Poinciana is a family that CARES," that last word being an acronym for Commitment, Achievement, Respect, Expectations, and Spirit.

There are also a number of initiatives contained in the plan. "The Three L's" entreats students to "Listen, Learn, and Love."

There's also an etiquette initiative aimed at transforming the cafeteria into something more than just a place for hungry students to shovel food into their mouths between classes.

"We've renamed it The Poinciana Pelican Palace Restaurant," McPherson said. "As part of the initiative we've been teaching the students proper table etiquette. Sometimes we put out tablecloths, to add to the experience. It was something we felt we should do."

As with most schools in the Keys, Poinciana is working with an ever-changing demographic situation, working with an increasing number of students who were born outside off the United States.

"Ninety-five of our students have been in the country for less than two years," McPherson said. "So there are a fair number of students for whom English is a second language. Helping them to learn English while they're learning math and science is another important aspect of what we do."

A key program for McPherson and her leadership team is the Positive Behavior Initiative (PBS) which seeks to change the whole disciplinary paradigm, by concentrating on rewarding good behavior, as opposed to punishing the bad. Poinciana is currently one of just a handful of schools in the district taking part in PBS, which is sponsored by the University of South Florida.

Positive reinforcements relating to the program line the walls of the school, which was recently awarded bronze level status for the staff's efforts and changing bad habits and behavior, and the sense of order is palpable in the halls and classrooms.

"Last year, between August and December we had 80 referrals for bad behavior," Counselor Goins said. "This year that number dropped to 24, which is pretty drastic. Our staff really loves this program."

In Robin Black's first-grade classroom, students are busy plugging away in various "centers," with some of the reading, others working on laptop computers, and still others working on a top-secret project involving shaving cream on a plate.

Black's class is one of the lucky three who have Smart Board technology to work with. McPherson hopes to be able to install them in every classroom in the school, when budgets allow.

Still, technology is nothing without trained staff to explain it, and the principal is rightly proud of her staff.

"Of our 42 teachers, 43 percent of them have been teaching for 15 or more years," McPherson said. "Another 45 percent have been teaching for six to 14 years. We have a highly qualified instructional staff, and it shows in everything we do."

During the 2012-13 school year Poinciana was awarded an overall "B" rating from the state Department of Education. The year before, it had been an "A" and McPherson is determined to reverse the trajectory of those scores.

"Our priority is bringing up our reading, writing, and math scores," McPherson said. "And we're spending a lot of time getting ready for the Common Core Curriculum that's coming soon. We hold weekly faculty meetings where we discuss our strategies, which include incorporating best practices from elsewhere."

As with all schools these days, the staff at Poinciana is emphasizing the importance of STEM education, which stresses the learning of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

The winners of Poinciana's science fair, held in December, represented the school at the District Science Fair held Saturday at Sugarloaf School, and did Poinciana proud.

"Out of our fifth graders, Nathan Barroso finished in first place in his grade level," McPherson said. "And another fifth-grader Ainsley Cunningham received an honorable mention designation, so we were pleased with taking home so many of the honors. We're extremely proud of them. They really worked hard, through an intensive judging process."

For the left-brain thinkers at the school Poinciana also has an impressive art program.

In December, the art department partnered with the Tropic Cinema to put on a well-attended show of works by the K-5 students of art teacher Jennifer Franke, at the downtown theater.

"It went really well," said Franke. "I think we're the only school that's been able to put on a show there. The Tropic people were really great."

As for the physical health of her students, Principal McPherson has been dealt a decent hand. The school has plenty of space for outdoor exercise and sports, and is allowed to use the Key West High School ball fields next door. McPherson has also instituted an optional 7:45 a.m. "Morning Mile" running program, which has really taken off with the students, as they start the school day with a run around the neighborhood.

"So far this year, we have a cumulative 1,800 miles run or walked by the students," said Instructional Coach Lesley Finnigan. "That would take us to Bangor, Maine. A lot of parents come out to run with their kids. It's been very successful."

Walking down the hallways of her school, students of all ages rush out to greet the principal, who knows all their names, and happily returns their salutations.

"It's just a great school in a great neighborhood," McPherson said. "And we're going to make it even better."

tschmida@keysnews.com

'Building a Community of Leaders and Learners'

Poinciana Elementary School

On a recent trip to Poinciana Elementary School, a visitor might have thought they had just stepped into the Magic Kingdom of Disney World.

During this particular day many of the school's 665 students, and their teachers, were dressed in the colorful clothing of Disney characters, as they went about their daily routines at the neighborhood school in New Town.

"It's something we're doing for Literacy Week," said Poinciana Principal Christina McPherson, who also still serves as the School District's Director of Accountability and Assessment. "It's to help increase student participation in the reading programs going on this week. We've also done a Camping Gear Day. It helps to keep it fun."

Fun is an operative word for the mild-mannered McPherson, and her leadership team, which includes Daliana Goins, a School Counselor and Positive Behavior Support program coach, and Lesley Finigan, an Instructional and Reading Coach.

But there are plenty of changes afoot at the school, whose current building was completed in 2006, just a year after Hurricane Wilma's floodwaters ravaged this part of the island.

Many of these changes are outlined in the School Improvement Plan McPherson and her team put together for the current school year, which is McPherson's first there as principal. According to that plan, the school's mission "is to educate the entire school community to be the best they can be and fulfill their potential in academic, personal, and social growth."

Then there's the School Statement: "Poinciana is a family that CARES," that last word being an acronym for Commitment, Achievement, Respect, Expectations, and Spirit.

There are also a number of initiatives contained in the plan. "The Three L's" entreats students to "Listen, Learn, and Love."

There's also an etiquette initiative aimed at transforming the cafeteria into something more than just a place for hungry students to shovel food into their mouths between classes.

"We've renamed it The Poinciana Pelican Palace Restaurant," McPherson said. "As part of the initiative we've been teaching the students proper table etiquette. Sometimes we put out tablecloths, to add to the experience. It was something we felt we should do."

As with most schools in the Keys, Poinciana is working with an ever-changing demographic situation, working with an increasing number of students who were born outside off the United States.

"Ninety-five of our students have been in the country for less than two years," McPherson said. "So there are a fair number of students for whom English is a second language. Helping them to learn English while they're learning math and science is another important aspect of what we do."

A key program for McPherson and her leadership team is the Positive Behavior Initiative (PBS) which seeks to change the whole disciplinary paradigm, by concentrating on rewarding good behavior, as opposed to punishing the bad. Poinciana is currently one of just a handful of schools in the district taking part in PBS, which is sponsored by the University of South Florida.

Positive reinforcements relating to the program line the walls of the school, which was recently awarded bronze level status for the staff's efforts and changing bad habits and behavior, and the sense of order is palpable in the halls and classrooms.

"Last year, between August and December we had 80 referrals for bad behavior," Counselor Goins said. "This year that number dropped to 24, which is pretty drastic. Our staff really loves this program."

In Robin Black's first-grade classroom, students are busy plugging away in various "centers," with some of the reading, others working on laptop computers, and still others working on a top-secret project involving shaving cream on a plate.

Black's class is one of the lucky three who have Smart Board technology to work with. McPherson hopes to be able to install them in every classroom in the school, when budgets allow.

Still, technology is nothing without trained staff to explain it, and the principal is rightly proud of her staff.

"Of our 42 teachers, 43 percent of them have been teaching for 15 or more years," McPherson said. "Another 45 percent have been teaching for six to 14 years. We have a highly qualified instructional staff, and it shows in everything we do."

During the 2012-13 school year Poinciana was awarded an overall "B" rating from the state Department of Education. The year before, it had been an "A" and McPherson is determined to reverse the trajectory of those scores.

"Our priority is bringing up our reading, writing, and math scores," McPherson said. "And we're spending a lot of time getting ready for the Common Core Curriculum that's coming soon. We hold weekly faculty meetings where we discuss our strategies, which include incorporating best practices from elsewhere."

As with all schools these days, the staff at Poinciana is emphasizing the importance of STEM education, which stresses the learning of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

The winners of Poinciana's science fair, held in December, represented the school at the District Science Fair held Saturday at Sugarloaf School, and did Poinciana proud.

"Out of our fifth graders, Nathan Barroso finished in first place in his grade level," McPherson said. "And another fifth-grader Ainsley Cunningham received an honorable mention designation, so we were pleased with taking home so many of the honors. We're extremely proud of them. They really worked hard, through an intensive judging process."

For the left-brain thinkers at the school Poinciana also has an impressive art program.

In December, the art department partnered with the Tropic Cinema to put on a well-attended show of works by the K-5 students of art teacher Jennifer Franke, at the downtown theater.

"It went really well," said Franke. "I think we're the only school that's been able to put on a show there. The Tropic people were really great."

As for the physical health of her students, Principal McPherson has been dealt a decent hand. The school has plenty of space for outdoor exercise and sports, and is allowed to use the Key West High School ball fields next door. McPherson has also instituted an optional 7:45 a.m. "Morning Mile" running program, which has really taken off with the students, as they start the school day with a run around the neighborhood.

"So far this year, we have a cumulative 1,800 miles run or walked by the students," said Instructional Coach Lesley Finnigan. "That would take us to Bangor, Maine. A lot of parents come out to run with their kids. It's been very successful."

Walking down the hallways of her school, students of all ages rush out to greet the principal, who knows all their names, and happily returns their salutations.

"It's just a great school in a great neighborhood," McPherson said. "And we're going to make it even better."

tschmida@keysnews.com

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